Shakespeare mas is one of the highlights of Carriacou Carnival held in February each year. Shakespeare mas is a mix of European and African traditions.
Shakespeare mas started in the 1930s in Carriacou. Across the wider Caribbean, Shakespeare mas used to be part of Jonkonnu celebrations in Jamaica, but that has since ceased.
Shakespeare mas has a part of its base in the Yoruba tradition. The Yoruba tradition uses processions as part of their ceremonies. The Shakespeare mas begins with a procession at the crossroad of villages and then moves into the city center of Hillsborough.
The European part of the tradition is derived from Shakespeare plays. Mas players of Shakespeare mas recite plays from Shakespeare. The most popular play recited is Julius Caesar.
Shakespeare mas is held on Carnival Tuesday of Carriacou Carnival held in February, each year. It occurs in the morning of Carnival Tuesday before the Parade in the streets.
Those who play Shakespeare mas come from six villages in Carriacou: Mt. Royal, Belmont, Six Roads, Brunswick, Windward, Belair and Mount Pleasant.
Players are dressed in colourful costumes. The players' costume consist of a Crown head piece, a cape, baggy pants, petticoat, a shirt decorated with mirrors, a wire mask, and whips. Whips are used to challenge opponents when they fail to respond to the Shakespeare verses.
The costumes are similar to those by another traditional mas, now extinct in Grenada, the Pierrot.
Preparation for the playing of Shakespeare mas begins months before the actual day. Practice is done in each village of the performance including the recital of verses from Julius Caesar plays.
On the actual Carnival Tuesday, the performance begins with a procession into Hillsborough streets.
Once on the Main street of Hillsborough, the performance begins with recital of verse from Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar. One player recites, and then the other player has to respond. The first player uses the whip to demand a response from the next player. the whip is pointed to the head of the player. The other player responds with a verse from Julius Caesar. This routine continues, with the players challenging each other, in this response pattern. Once any player fails to respond, then the whip is applied to the player.
Blows are delivered and the performance climax with physical interactions among the players. In the past, Shakespeare mas was banned due to this violent nature of the mas.
The audience for the performance is villagers from the six villages. Villagers cheer their respective players, and rejoice when the champion village is declared.
Source of information: Shakespeare in Carriacou by Joan M. Fayer and Joan F. McMurray.
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